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Public’s views on flogging adults


Peter W. Wickham

Public’s views on flogging adults

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Last week’s presentation of data on the attitude of Barbadians to the corporal punishment of children is complemented by this week’s analysis of support for a similar type of punishment in respect of adults who have committed crimes.

It needs to be stated at the outset that the flogging of adults was discontinued in Barbados since 1991 as a result of an appeal against a decision of Justice Belgrave who sentenced a man to be flogged with the cat-o’-nine-tails.

Parliament is yet to speak to this issue legislatively and can theoretically reintroduce this form of punishment, either with that implement or the traditional birch.

It is, however, generally agreed that this action is unlikely in the context of a contemporary appreciation of what can be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

The option to corporally punish adults is therefore not on the table in Barbados and this analysis is therefore largely academic and intended to provide context to the ongoing discussion on the appropriateness of corporal punishment and general public attitudes towards violence.

CADRES has tested Barbadian attitudes toward corporal punishment on two occasions in surveys commissioned by the NATION newspaper and have been presented in the appended chart. It is interesting to note the similar circumstances surrounding the environment in which both surveys were conducted, since both followed what could be termed a major upheaval in local crime which was likely to have stimulated public interest in extreme punishments.

Previous articles of this type have noted the impact of this phenomenon on support for the death penalty by reference to comparative data.

It is clear that there was, up to four years ago, majority support for the reintroduction of corporal punishment that approached two-thirds of Barbadians. This support has declined significantly since 1999 which was already eight years after the punishment was discontinued but ten years after, there is still majority support for its reintroduction.

In much the same way that the trend regarding support for corporal punishment in schools suggested that majority opposition to that punishment is likely to emerge shortly, we can similarly project that on this trajectory, a majority of Barbadians will eventually oppose the corporal punishment of adults.

In this instance, however, it is also clear that this opposition will take a far longer time to mature, suggesting that we are still inclined to think that this type of punishment is acceptable.

It is, of course, seen by many as unacceptable to compare the corporal punishment of criminals with children. However, some interesting issues emerge when such an analysis is done.

The first point of comparison is the fact that in all three instances younger respondents are less inclined to support corporal punishment than older people, suggesting that our society will eventually outgrow its fascination with corporal punishment. There are no further demographic similarities that emerge since gender comparisons are inconsistent.

The other comparative issue is simpler and emerges when one directly compares support for the three types of punishment. It becomes clear that our strongest support is for the flogging of children in the home, followed by the flogging of criminals and thereafter within the educational environment.

Inversely, this means that we are more anxious to flog children in the home than we are to flog criminal adults, which seems unfortunate.

Although these data appears to contradict positions I have taken on the issue of corporal punishment, the intention here is to highlight the limitations of relying exclusively on public opinion to guide public policy.

The popularity and, in some instances, the overwhelming popularity of corporal punishment is acknowledged but a proper analysis of the data suggests that corporal punishment is becoming less fashionable as time passes and there are good reasons why this is the case. In many instances, public opinion is less well informed than specialist opinion, and as the case of adult corporal punishment demonstrates, there are good legal, historic and social reasons why we should not flog criminals, but these reasons are clearly not properly understood by the general public.

• Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).

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